Growing Ginkgo bonsai from seed.

An old tree from seed

In some way there is something magical about growing Ginkgo bonsai. Bonsai is of course all about growing miniature trees that give the impression of age and tranquility. And how better to do this by growing a living fossile? The species Ginkgo biloba is estimated to be 200M years old. It is the oldest tree species known, and as such, growing them for bonsai is a mythical experience.

Getting the seed

Frozen Ginkgo seeds along the road

Getting the right seeds for growing Ginkgo bonsai from seed is important. Naturally, there are online stores that sell ginkgo seed. These however, are often old and completely dried up. Personally, I prefer to get seeds fresh, and collect them from the ground. For this, I went to a place with a number of Ginkgo trees along the road. Beware though: The seeds are covered by a fleshy outer layer, which smells a bit like ranzid butter. And the smell jumps into your skin. So be warned and prepared. Bring rubber gloves with you.

In October/November the seeds should be ripe and fall to the ground so you can easily collect them. Do note that as the seeds are smelly, most trees planted now are male plants, that do not create seeds. So you have to find a stand of trees with female trees in them, as often found in botanical gardens.

The seed coat has to come off the seeds. For me it worked well by putting them in a container half-filled with water. And then shaking the container vigourously. After some 15 minute of shaking – rinsing and shaking, the seeds were effectively clean. Failing to clean the seeds will result in a lot of fungus buildup during germination.

Natural Stratification

Twisted Ginkgo

In order to germinate, ginkgo seeds need a period of warm rest (warm stratification) followed by some 6 weeks of cold rest (Cold stratification) while the seeds are kept moist. This will tell the seeds that fall and winter have passed, and that is it time to start germination. There are loads of suggestions in the web on how to do this. I am personally a big fan of letting nature do its job. So I took a largish container, filled it partially with substrate. Then put the seeds on top of the substrate. And topped the whole lot off with pine bark. This I put outside in the winter weather, to be ignored untill spring.

In spring it took a little bit for the first seedlings to appear. It was not untill early May that the first shells started popping and roots came out. So excited! After 3 weeks most seeds I had brought had germinated. And at the 4 leaf stage I decided to start planting them into individual pots. And some individuals were given a bit of movement in the young green trunk. Let’s see where this experiment brings us!

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